Matt Cahill is having a tough time of it. First, his wife Janey dies from cancer. A year later, he is perhaps willing to entertain the idea of seeing another woman. Their first date is to a ski lodge, where he hits the slopes and is promptly buried by an avalanche.
He’s not found for three months. So you can imagine the coroner’s surprise when he discovers that Matt Cahill is still alive.
Something like that can put you through some changes, and Matt’s gone through a few. He doesn’t like them, either. The first he discovers is that he sees certain people in a way others don’t–their faces are decaying like those of corpses. These visions are accompanied by the overwhelming stench of rotting flesh, and mean that horrific violence is soon to occur.
The blurb at Amazon describes Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin’s The Dead Man series as “[blending] the horror of Stephen King with the action of classic men’s adventure pulp fiction,” and that’s a pretty good description.
I’ll leave to the King fans to decide if he’s the best comparison, but it truly is a horror-themed men’s adventure series. I started laughing (and getting funny looks at the bar I was reading at) when I realized that the first chapter was an absolutely spot-on ringer for Chapter One of every Destroyer novel ever written; a most welcome homage, extraordinarily well executed. I half expected chapter two to begin, “His name was Remo…” There are a couple of other nods to Murphy and Sapir, including one so hysterical that I’d like to quote it here but don’t want to spoil it.
Not all of the writing is as clever as that. There are some some passages that read like the writers hurriedly converted a script into a book, which, given that Goldberg and Rabkin have done significant TV work in addition to their book work, I suspect is the case.
That’s hardly a deal-breaker. Face of Evil does an able and highly entertaining job of delivering the origin story and setting up the series. Following his emergence from the ice, Matt Cahill will wander from place to place, seeking answers as to why he is like he is and a cure for his condition. He will experience much adventure and carnage along the way.
Ring of Knives is Matt’s first adventure as a wanderer. In his quest for answers, Matt has found the Encyclopedia of Psychopathology and, within, a case study of a man with symptoms similar to his. This brings him to the Carthage Mental Health Center and then…well, the title of the book is Ring of Knives.
Some readers will be turned off by a gratuitous political swipe in what had previously been a blessedly apolitical affair, and Matt Cahill’s personality seems a little different than in the first volume which is no surprise as the book is the work of a different writer (James Daniels). But on the whole, Ring of Knives is just what the coroner ordered: a suspenseful, gory, violent, action-packed tale that nicely continues the process of adding to the mythology and universe in which Matt Cahill exists.
I love the concept behind this series. “Men’s Adventure Horror Novels” appeals to me the way that “MTV Cops” supposedly appealed to TV execs at the Miami Vice pitch meeting back in the ’80s. Throw in that the books are wonderfully short (#1 is 81 Kindle pages and #2 is 104), released monthly, and written by a variety of pulpy writers both established and new, and you’ve got the sort of thing I’ve been looking for for a long time now. I tore through #1 and half of #2 in a single afternoon and evening, and had a blast doing it.
Count me in.
(The Dead Man series is currently only available for Kindle, but the first six books are collected in two omnibus volumes for release February 21. The omnibi will also be available for Kindle.)